Thursday, May 6

Posted by Laurel Garver on Thursday, May 06, 2010 17 comments
Looking for a few good rentals for the upcoming weekend? (Is it bad that I'm thinking weekend already?) Something to stimulate your writerly brain a bit, instead of the usual car chases and pedestrian romances?

Come to the land of indie film! This week I'm highlighting a few recent faves that feature teen boy protagonists and offer three very different takes on male adolescence.

Charlie Bartlett
Flixter description:
A wealthy teen goes to a new public high school and ingratiates himself into its social fabric by using his charm to become the school's resident "psychiatrist."

My take: Fun and charming film about a nice kid who's had entirely too little parenting. Charlie's misguided attempts to become popular perpetually run afoul of adult rules, but his underlying vulnerability and caring attitude keep you rooting for him. I especially like the way the romantic relationship develops, founded first on a supportive friendship. It's rare to see that in teen films. The parent-child relationships are also done well, and not the usual cliches. I've heard others compare this film to Ferris Beuller's Day Off--I think CB is deeper and more concerned with teens having healthy connections with the adult world rather than simply kids gone wild, thumbing their noses at authority.

Pope Dreams
Description from the film site: Pope Dreams is about a directionless, 19-year old boy, Andy Venable, who works for his hard-case dad in a warehouse during the day and plays drums in a loud heavy-metal band at night. His only clear goal at the moment is to get his sick mother, a devout Catholic, to meet the Pope before she dies. While he's busy with that, he falls for a girl who's totally out of his league and gets discovered by two Broadway producers for a musical talent that just might be his true calling. Andy's a dreamer. But dreaming is easy. It's reality that's hard.

My take: I love independent film for bringing sweet stories like this one to the screen. Despite the rather silly title, this redemptive story of a teen boy totally adrift as his mother is dying of cancer hits many of the right notes and mostly avoids being maudlin. The romantic subplot will make your heart ache at times, but it serves thematic purpose. Andy learns, like the biblical Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery, "you intended it for harm, but God intended it for good."

Brick Flixter description: "Brick," while taking its cues and its verbal style from the novels of Dashiell Hammett, also honors the rich cinematic tradition of the hard-boiled noir mystery, here wittily and bracingly immersed in fresh territory -- a modern-day Southern California neighborhood and high school. There, student Brendan Frye's piercing intelligence spares no one. Brendan is not afraid to back up his words with actions, and knows all the angles; yet he prefers to stay an outsider, and does -- until the day that his ex-girlfriend, Emily reaches out to him unexpectedly and then vanishes. Brendan's feelings for her still run deep; so much so, that he becomes consumed with finding his troubled inamorata. To find her, Brendan enlists the aid of his only true peer, The Brain, while keeping the assistant vice principal only occasionally informed of what quickly becomes a dangerous investigation.

My take: A stylish adaptation of the film noir detective genre, set among affluent, suburban teens embroiled in drug culture who speak in incomprehensible slang. Joseph Gordon-Levitt has grown up nicely since his Third Rock days and plays the smart, tough-yet-vulnerable leading man with aplomb. The Tiger Beat crowd won't see his appeal, but the smart, arty girls will.

As with most SciFi, you're thrown into a new world and must put the pieces together. The story's pace and tension keep you intrigued, even when the characters don't quite seem to be speaking English.

Do any of these sound appealing? Why or why not? What films do you recommend that feature teen guys?


  1. Those are intriguing. I'd written something about Pope Dreams when I was a reporter covering a festival but never seen it. All of these sound like fascinating storylines and worthwhile for writers to study. I recently watched the old TV series My So Called Life and realized I'd forgotten how very awkward first love is and how hard it is to understand what you're feeling and what to do about it.

  2. I saw your link on another blog and thought I'd take a look. Glad I did.

    I love all good movies, whoever the protagonist, and got a critique a few years ago on an evil kid idea I had/still have for a film. I was even thinking about it today, coming up with names. Then I found what you've written here, and am eager to see these movies. Especially the Dashiell Hammett spinoff. I love the hard-boiled noir mystery. Thanks for the list and your good comments.

    I'm interested in following your blog since I like YA as much now as I did when I was young and am plotting one that takes place in the late Forties when polio was rampant.

  3. They all sound interesting. I haven't seen Slum Dog Millionaire, yet, but that's another one that comes to mind. Of course, the best was The Outsiders and Stand by Me

  4. I think Pope Dreams looks interesting. I love indie films. :)

  5. Charlie Bartlett sounds interesting to me. The whole High School scene always intrigues me.

    Thanks for the recommendations!

  6. These all sound great Laurel! My teens favorites are my favorites from my teen years. Examples are Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty in Pink, and the classic vampire movie The Lost Boys.

  7. These definitely sound interesting. I don't watch tons of movies - especially not during the Stanley Cup playoffs :) - but I usually try to watch 1 or 2 a week in the summer and keep up that way!

  8. Tricia: Philly has a big indie film festival, too, but I haven't yet gone to any of the screenings. I loves me some good teen angst and have heard great things about My So Called Life--probably ought to add it to the Nexflix queue!

    Ann: Thanks for coming by and following. I didn't expect to like Brick as much as I did, but it is a pretty slick spin on noir. You might want to look up the glossary to help wade through all the crazy slang they use, though. I was totally serious about the not-quite-speaking-English comment.

    Mary: Slumdog is moving, but it has some hair-raising kids in danger parts that are kind of hard to take, so brace yourself. I know the outsiders is a classic of YA, but I've never seen the film--probably should!

  9. Amber: I tripped upon it in the library and was happily surprised by it.

    Janet: It's fantastic and really, really funny as well.

    A TV series I recommend for looking at high school culture is Freaks and Geeks. It's "historic"--set in the early 80s but ran on TV in the mid-2000s. It's about a brainy girl who tries to change her image to fit in with the stoner clique.

    Lynn: Did you ever see Some Kind of Wonderful? It's one of my faves of the John Hughes films from roughly the same era.

    Jemi: I'll probably post more recommendations in coming weeks. Films are more novel-like in structure than, say, TV shows--I often learn a lot about storytelling from them.

  10. Hello Laurel! I came by from Crystal's lovely blog 'Write because you must', and I am glad I did!

    I like to hear recommendations for new films. I probably wouldn't have picked up the film Pope Dreams because of that title, but your write up made it sound appealing.

    My own recommendations are quite dated - I still love the John Hughes era (maybe because it is my own!)

  11. Brick looks good. I like a good mystery and the cover is appealing. I haven't seen many movies lately, but I guess they're aren't too many mainstream movies with guy protags. Interesting. Other than Harry and Percy.

  12. Jayne: thanks for coming by and following! I'm a Hughes-era gal, too. Enjoying Philly's many art-house theatres got me interested in indie film. In the Netflix era, though, wonderfully literary, quirky, non-mainstream films are widely available.

    Laura: Most mainstream films with teen guys are lowest-common-denominator humor. I count on indie filmmakers to bring smart to a usually not-so-smart sector of the market.

  13. Charlie Bartlett and Brick sound interesting to me. – And no, it’s never too early to think about the weekend.

  14. Brick was a little heavy for my tastes, but Joseph Gordon Levitt is an amazing actor.
    Teen boys? I liked Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. It was much cuter than I thought it would be. I'm sure there are more, but I can't think of them off the top of my head.

    Good post!

  15. I haven't seen any of those, but Charlie Bartlett looks the most appealing to me, maybe because I'm not sure I'm up for something as heavy as Pope Dreams, or as dark as Brick.
    Thanks for the post! The only teenage boy I know well just went to see Transformers 2, and I'm not sure what I would recommend on teenage boy flicks.

  16. They all look good, but Brick sounds the most appealing. I like noir mysteries, and the poster is intriguing.

  17. Southpaw: the two films are quite different, but good in their own ways.

    JEM: thanks for the recommendation. I thought I'd hate Brick because of the danger/drug culture stuff, but Joseph Gordon Levitt made this one work for me. I loves me a smart geeky boy hero. :-)

    Tyrean: Pope Dreams isn't the downer it could be. It's a very redemptive story and sweet and Andy get the right girl instead of the wrong one.

    Medeia: The high school setting makes it so unique!